Former Anchorage Baptist Temple pastor Jerry Prevo was recorded telling a Liberty University official he knew “how to work” the tax status of churches, Politico reported Wednesday.
“I have a 50c3 church,” Prevo said on the recording, according to Politico. “For 30 years, I’ve known how to handle that and not get into trouble. The homosexual community has tried to take me down for at least 30 years, and they have not been successful because I know how to work the 50c3.”
Prevo, the founder and longtime pastor of one of Alaska’s largest, wealthiest and most influential churches, became president of Liberty University in Virginia in 2020 after former president Jerry Falwell Jr. became embroiled in scandal.
Liberty University responded that Prevo “knows the lines established by the IRS.”
Prevo was secretly recorded pushing for the evangelical university to wield more political influence with the goal of “getting people elected,” according to Politico. He retired from Anchorage Baptist Temple in 2019.
Tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations — a designation that applies to many churches as well as Liberty University — are barred from participating directly in certain types of political campaigning, including directly supporting individual candidates.
The recording was made by Scott Lamb, Liberty University’s senior vice president for communications and public engagement at the time, who says he was fired after objecting to the way the university handled sexual assault complaints. Lamb made the recording and shared it with Politico, the article said. Lamb is now suing the university.
In a response, Liberty University said it couldn’t answer specific questions about Prevo’s comments due to the lawsuit filed by Lamb. The university instead offered a statement:
“President Prevo knows the lines established by the IRS for political engagement by 501(c)(3) organizations, even if Scott Lamb does not,” the university said in a statement. “The IRS recognizes that conservative 501(c)(3) organizations can legally register and get out conservative voters in hopes of having a more conservative government. The same goes for liberal 501(c)(3)s.”
“Whatever the recordings say, they do not supersede university policy,” the statement said.
Prevo, in an email to university staff earlier in the year, said he wanted to “protect Liberty University from the risks that can be posed by election activities of employees, especially senior employees, being misinterpreted as activities that are not permitted by 501(c)(3) organizations like Liberty University.”
Anchorage Baptist Temple has long been closely linked with conservative political activity in Alaska.
In Anchorage, Prevo was a vocal campaigner on what he called “moral political issues,” fighting for decades against rights for LGBT people. At his retirement, elected officials crowded the stage and he said he’d met every living U.S. president with the exception of Barack Obama. Anchorage Baptist Temple also drew scrutiny for an arrangement in which staff members lived in church-owned, tax-exempt houses.
Glenn Clary, a former pastor at ABT, also served as the top Republican Party official in Alaska. In March, he joined Prevo at Liberty University, where he is now a vice president.